Thanking Your Opponents

September 13, 2009

The 2009 Basketball Hall of Fame induction ceremony occurred last Friday. That’s a point to which I wouldn’t have paid much attention — if you ever saw me try to play basketball you’d understand why — except that this year Michael Jordan showed up to model how to play well, this time off the court.

Jordan used many of the playing well techniques of which I have written here throughout his speech, but I have included just the last nine minutes below to highlight the skill of appreciating your enemies.

Jordan began his address by describing how others thankfully threw wood on his internal competitive fire with the challenges they presented. One of his first examples was the high school coach that cut him from the varsity team. He said, “I wanted to make sure you understood: You made a mistake, dude.”

Jordan was clear, it was his adversaries that made him great. He reminds me of the martial artist who in her opening bow when stepping on the mat affirms, “Thank you for being my opponent. I know you have the capacity to hurt or destroy me. Teach me what I need to learn.” I appreciate that with both humor and humanness “MJ” presented that his opponents weren’t usually initially welcomed by him, but over the long haul he understood that they each were essential in his development.

Again, Jordan displays how the game might be played; this time it’s the larger game. He is setting a standard on expressing sincere gratitude and how we might confront our opposition, be it in the form of a loss, an illness, an uncomfortable situation or a difficult person. May we each see our challenges as just good kindling for our internal flames.

Deidre Combs

Deidre Combs is the author of three books on cross-cultural approaches to resolving conflict and overcoming challenges:  The Way of ConflictWorst Enemy, Best Teacher  and Thriving Through Tough Times. The books integrate perennial wisdom from the world’s lasting cultural traditions with systems theory and brain research.

Dr. Combs is a management consultant, executive coach, mediator and core instructor in Montana State University’s Leadership Fellows Certificate Program and Columbia University’s Teacher’s College Global Competence Certificate Program. Since 2007, she has also taught intensive leadership training to State Department-selected students, teachers and professional leaders from throughout the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Eurasia, Latin America and Pakistan’s FATA region.

Related Posts